How Far Back Does an FBI Background Check Go?

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Everyone applying for high-risk positions can and will be subjected to an FBI background check sooner or later. But how far back does this check go?

Generally, FBI background checks will go back to the last 7 years, though it can go back to the very beginning if the position calls for it. This timeframe typically pertains to non-convictions and warrants, as convictions will usually appear even if they happened 10 or 20 years ago.

So, if you’d like to know more information about this, make sure to keep reading. We’ll tell you what you need to know about FBI background checks from A to Z.

How Far Back Do FBI Checks Go?

Well, it varies, but it usually goes back no more than 7 years.

Simply put, FBI background checks are known for being thorough and comprehensive. They cover things from criminal convictions to arrest records and outstanding warrants.

However, not everything in your criminal record will always show up in your FBI report.

Criminal non-convictions, i.e., crimes for which you’ve been arrested but not convicted, will only be visible if they’ve occurred within the last 7 years. The same applies to any warrants or probations you may have. Once the 7-year period has passed, all these details will be cleared from your criminal history, losing their ability to affect your employer’s decision.

However, criminal convictions, i.e., offenses of which you have been found guilty, will always show up on your record, no matter how long ago they happened. This includes felonies and misdemeanors, though minor misdemeanors are often overlooked.

Still, you should know that certain states, like California, don’t permit convictions to appear on a background check past the 7-year mark. Some states even prevent non-convictionsーfor which you were found innocentーfrom appearing as well. So it’ll all come down to the laws of where you live.

Nevertheless, other scenarios can alter the timeframe of an FBI Background check. So, take a look at them, shall we?

Can FBI Background Checks Go Back More Than 7 years?

Yes, in specific cases, FBI checks can go back more than 7 years.

Basically, a lot of job positions require applicants to go through an FBI background check. These include jobs in the medical and educational fields as well as law, government, and state.

Depending on the position’s sensitivity, the FBI check can go back for your entire life.

To give you an example, let’s say you’re applying for a teaching position. Though this job requires an FBI check, it’s considered a low-risk job. As such, the FBI can only legally look at the last 7 years of your criminal history.

However, for highly sensitive positions that deal with national security or some such, FBI checks will generally be more comprehensive. There will be interviews with your coworkers, family, friends, neighbors, and other people who know about your character and past. They’ll also examine your criminal record to see if anything could disqualify you from the job. They can go back 7, 10 years, or as far as your record goes, depending on how sensitive the position you’re applying for is.

What Does an FBI Background Check Entail?

Generally, FBI checks will show any criminal convictions and incarcerations you’ve undergone. It’ll also show any outstanding warrants, arrest records and criminal charges that occurred in the last 7 years. Your report will also show each arrest and conviction’s date and charge detail.

It’s unlikely to find fines in an FBI background check, as most of them are processed locally without being reported to the FBI. However, if a court-ordered fine is part of a criminal sentence, then this fine may appear on your report.

Your credit history isn’t included in an FBI background check. However, bankruptcies can be reported as they’re a matter of public record.

Finally, there will be all sorts of official personal information about you in the FBI report, such as your legal name, date of birth, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

How Long Does an FBI Check Take?

An FBI background check can take anywhere from a week to a month.

Typically, if the background check request has been submitted electronically, you’ll usually get the results in about 3-5 days. However, if you’ve requested the results to be mailed to you, then you can add another week to the timeline.

Mailed requests will typically take longer to process, with an average timeline of 2-weeks, and that’s the best-case scenario. However, some background checks can take months, especially those for high-risk positions. Checks for adoption will also take a long time to complete as they need to be more in-depth than those required for the average job.

Still, you can speed up the process a bit if you use an FBI-approved channeler, which is a private business that’s contracted with the FBI to record and submit an applicant’s fingerprints along with his request form.

Nevertheless, you should always expect delays in your results if you’ve filled out your request form incorrectly or if there’s a problem with the submitted fingerprints. So, make sure all your information is accurate and complete, and try to have your fingerprints recorded by a fingerprinting technician to avoid any errors.

Can You Run an FBI Background Check on Yourself?

Yes, you can run an FBI background check on yourself by going to the FBI website and requesting an Identity History Summary. This will show you your so-called “rap sheet,” entailing your convictions, arrests, and so forth.

This can be very helpful in knowing what your potential employer will see when he requests an FBI check on you, allowing you to prepare for any question he may ask.

Not only that, but ordering an Identity Summary History will give you a chance to correct any inaccurate or false information about you before your employer has a chance to see it. And, if you find an arrest record or warrant that shouldn’t have been included in the FBI check, you can also ask for it to be removed.

What Is the Purpose of FBI Background Checks?

Essentially, FBI checks are ordered to make sure job applicants are who they say they are and have no concerning records.

Since most people who require an FBI check apply for high-level and publicly-trusted jobs that deal with children or the elderly, they need to be upstanding citizens who pose no threat to others.

Highly-specialized professions like medicine and law enforcement also require people to be truthful and ethical to ensure citizens’ safety. This also applies to government jobs, even those on the county level.

Accordingly, FBI background checks are one way to verify or at least get an understanding of a person’s character. That’s why many employers use them to look into their prospective hires before giving them the job.

That isn’t to say that FBI background checks are only pertinent to jobs. For example, they’re also used by adoption agencies to see if certain individuals are fit to be parents by viewing their criminal records and other pertinent information.

Still, the basic idea is the same; FBI background checks reveal valuable information about a person’s past. This information may be totally irrelevant, or it can help to determine whether that person will be a food fit or not.

Which Information Can Cost You the Job?

Typically, having an extensive criminal record can raise a lot of red flags for most employers. While having a criminal record shouldn’t disqualify you from getting the job, it can make you fail if it’s related to your future career.

To elaborate, suppose you’re applying for a position in the bank. If you’ve previously been convicted of fraud or theft, then it’s more probable than not that you’ll be rejected. If your job includes driving and you have a DUI, that job is also a no-go. With certain positions, you need to have a clean record for getting and maintaining your job.

Federal and government positions, in particular, don’t really accept applicants with arrests and convictions that have been pursued in federal criminal courts. Crimes like fraud, tax evasion, blackmail, and embezzlement will ensure you don’t get the job. Sexual offenses, murders, kidnappings, and other serious felonies will also cost you the job.

Still, with regular jobs, as long as your criminal record isn’t too gory and your offenses don’t raise a concern about your ability to perform your role, the job should be yours. Just remember to be truthful with your interview and don’t lie in your resume. The lies will eventually be found out, and they’ll cost you the job sooner or later.

What Do You Need to Get an FBI Background Check?

To get an FBI background check, the first thing you need to do is to fill out the request form. You can find this on the FBI website, and in it, you’ll state things like your name, place of birth, address, and the last four digits of your social security number.

Once you’ve completed the request, you should then head to a U.S post office or police department to collect and record your fingerprints.

Once you have your fingerprint card in hand, send it to the FBI and pay the fee for the background check. Make sure to pay with a certified check, credit card, or money order for the payment to go through. If you try to pay with cash or any other payment method, your background check will either be rejected or delayed.

Can You Get an FBI Background Check Without Submitting Your Fingerprints?

No. You can’t run an FBI background check without sending them your fingerprints. That’s because when the FBI runs your fingerprints against their National Crime Information Center System (NCIS), it uses your fingerprints to find out what you’ve criminally been up to.

Since all arrests and convictions end up with your fingerprint, the FBI can pull up all those activities during your background check. Even though they can’t legally check arrest records older than 7 years, they may pull them up if they get permission to do so.


What Should You Do If Your FBI Check Contains Inaccurate Information?

You should challenge your Identity History Summary by sending a request to the FBI.

What Does the FBI Do With Your Submitted Fingerprint Card?

After using your fingerprints to run the background check, the FBI will keep your fingerprint card. They can’t return it to you to not put your personal information at risk.

Do Expunged Records Show Up on FBI Background Checks?

Expunged and sealed records shouldn’t show up on regular FBI background checks. If they do, then it may be due to any error in processing the expungement.

Where Should You Go to Record Your Fingerprints?

You can record and submit your fingerprints electronically by going to the nearest participating U.S post office. If you want a physical fingerprint card, then you can go to your local law enforcement agency or a printing company that offers this service.


FBI background checks usually pull up all your past convictions, no matter how long ago they occurred. However, criminal charges, arrest records, probations, and warrants will not show up unless they’ve happened in the last 7 years.

However, mistakes can sometimes occur. In that case, you should request a correction from the FBI. And remember, not all FBI background checks are on the same level. Some are much more comprehensive than you can imagine, especially those ordered for sensitive positions.